Virginia’s Parole Board in the Shadows

by Kerry Dougherty

Last spring we ran an accidental series of stories about the Virginia Parole Board, which was busy releasing some of the commonwealth’s most depraved criminals.

At first we learned of one murderer being released from prison. A few days later we heard about another and another until we had six. Before we knew it, we had a series.

There were also allegations that the board wasn’t following procedures. Prosecutors told us they were not being given adequate notification before criminals were released. Victims’ families said they weren’t contacted at all.

Unacceptable. All of it.

Most Virginians became aware of the Richmond freeing frenzy when they heard in May about the impending release of Vincent Martin, a Richmond cop killer. The outcry from law enforcement caused a delay but Martin was released in June.

 That inexplicable decision helped launch an investigation into the parole board by Virginia’s inspector general. In July he issued a scathing report that found the board had, in many cases, failed to follow its own rules that require adequate notice to prosecutors and victims’ families before prisoners are freed.

Joining Martin on this parade to freedom were at least five other lesser-known murderers:

There was Donald Lee Brooks who was serving 28 years for a second-degree murder committed in 2010. Debra Scribner, who was serving 28 years for a murder committed in 2012 and who was sprung after just eight years. Irvian Cotton, who in 1979 shot his wife at point-blank range in front of her children, ages 4 and 8. Dwayne Markee Reid, who was given two life sentences in 1995, and is back on the streets thanks to the board. So is Patrick Schooley Jr., who, in 1979, abducted, raped and stabbed to death a 78-year-old woman. Schooley was serving three life sentences for capital murder, before the board decided he should get a second chance.

Other killers may have been paroled in recent months, but the board’s website cleverly omits details about the crimes committed by the inmates that are being freed or the length of their sentences.

Here, take a peek at one nearly information-free page from the parole board’s website:

VirginiaParoleBoardFreeKillers.jpg

Sen. Mark Obenshain tried to remedy this deliberate dearth of details when he introduced SB5050 during this summer’s special session. This measure was aimed at bringing desperately needed transparency to the Parole Board.

If Obenshain’s bill had become law, the board’s website would have morphed from a murky, meaningless list of names into a source of actual information about who is being unleashed on society.

Beyond that, the website is chronically out of date. The most recent parole decisions available are from July 31. Obenshain’s bill would require the board to post its decisions promptly, on the last day of every month.

Those of us who care about open government were delighted when the bill passed the Senate unanimously on September 9th.

Then again, senators are the grown-ups in Richmond. The Democrats in the House of Delegates are the bratty children who seem infatuated with bad actors.

As soon as this common-sense measure arrived in the House, it was sent to a committee where it will languish at least until January.

Terrific.

That gives the parole board even more time to conduct its business in the shadows.

This column was republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed & Unedited.

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26 responses to “Virginia’s Parole Board in the Shadows

  1. George Allen rode this issue (among others) to victory in 1993. This is working well for me. Keep it up, folks. A few of these felons go back to their old ways and a dozen House seats flip just like that. This IS an issue that moves elections.

    • Indeed. You are 100% correct.

      I just wish the “we don’t need prisons and we don’t need police” attitude displayed by the democrats of late was not going to cost any innocent people their lives.

    • The problem is who you put in prison and for what offense. What percent of the prison population would it be if we only incarcertated violent offenders?
      How many in prison if we did not imprison those for actual drug use and not trumped on charges on distribution?

      The thing about releasing murderers and violent offenders is a legitimate issue but at the same time, we are also releasing many, many more for minor offenses that we housed in the same facilities with violent offenders.

      We talk about the “school to prison pipeline”. How about the “schooling in prison of non-violent offenders by violent offenders”?

      By the time they get out – they’vew learned a whole new set of “skills” AND because they have a prison record – are lucky to find a decent job and often can be preyed upon by unscrupulous employers the same way undocumented are.

      But law & order is an easy tried and true campaign issue for a lot of folks; they just don’t want to be victims.

      • “What percent of the prison population would it be if we only incarcertated violent offenders?”

        I’ll bite, what percentage?

        “How many in prison if we did not imprison those for actual drug use and not trumped on charges on distribution?”

        Again, I’ll bite.

        ” How about the “schooling in prison of non-violent offenders by violent offenders”?

        Ok. How about it?
        It’s fun reading your posts, Larry. They’re so easy to read because they are so free of any real information.

  2. “The Democrats in the House of Delegates are the bratty children who seem infatuated with bad actors.”

    So is Virginia’s Parole Board. Its members today are just more bratty children Democrats who seem infatuated with bad actors, so set them free to roam the streets of Virginia looting, burning, and intimidating their fellow citizens when not causing them bodily harm. That is Virginia’s Parole Board under the Democratic regime in Richmond, Virginia.

  3. Will agree about being able to know the difference between a true cold-blooded killer and a one-off and no other criminal behavior.

    Would NOT agree about adult and bratty:

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    • Heard her on the radio the other day. She’s still complaining about the mean lady Capitol cop who was rude and wouldn’t let her park where she wanted. She cites that as her having suffered abuse from law enforcement. Can’t make this up….in a statewide primary she might not hit 30%. Depends who else is out there.

  4. Have they all had their voting tights restored?

  5. This is one of the rare instances in which I agree with Kerry. Obenshain’s bill was a good one. It set up a procedure that would have ensured that paroled offenders would not be released until everyone concerned had been notified. It also require a lot more information be reported about the offender (offense, years served, jurisdiction) that would have been useful to the public. Obenshain worked with Democrats on the Senate committee to amend his introduced bill to address some concerns raised by the Parole Board, which he thought were legitimate. The final vote in the Senate was a rarity–unanimous for a bill on criminal justice reform sponsored by a Republican. The House committee gave it short shrift. There was no discussion. Del. Simon moved, when the bill came up, that it be sent to the Crime Commission for study because the committee had decided last session that it wanted to look at all parole-related bills together. Therefore, after the vote, Del. Herring, chair of the House Courts of Justice Committee said that she would send a letter to the chair of the Crime Commission asking it to study the bill. The chair of the Crime Commission happens to be her. This bill had nothing to do with who gets parole or how long anyone has to serve before being eligible for parole. It only dealt with the procedures to be followed by the Parole Board, whatever the parole parameters happen to be. The committee action was obviously orchestrated to push the bill away without blatantly killing it. Being the chair of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee when the Republicans were in the majority, Obenshain is probably not popular with many of the Democrats on the House Courts of Justice Committee.

    • Along the lines of your lat comment – is there some bad blood between Obensain and some of the Dems over some past actions?

      When Obensain was Chair… was the realitionship with the Dems good?

      Sometimes it seems that even when a bill is a good bill ( not just claimed by one side), it still goes down over some internal issues that are only known to the insiders…

      So, sorry to hear that this was a good bill and it went down.

      When the two sides can no longer sit down and work things out, we’ve lost a lot.

  6. First off every one deserves a second chance.what about the ones who you got there child hood tooken from them in turned there lives around for the greater good. It doesn’t make sense to just focus on the non Violent offenders . In all reality it’s the non Violent offenders who are going to jail I’m coming back to prison.not all violent offenders are bad. I vote to BRING BACK PAROLE FOR ALL. Now for ones who recently got out of prison got a second chance.what about the people who didn’t kill or rape anybody and made mistakes because there were young in had no guidance? The world is changing, Virginia embloished parole years ago it’s time to bring it back period.

    • Hi, Puff24, I think a lot of people would like to know more about your story. I hope you’ll tell us more.

    • I’d favor giving all imprisoned a second chance unless they have a history of violent behavior. For ones that did commit violent offenses once but had no prior history, I’d treat the same way as non-violent in terms of consideration.

      But all of this gets blown away when politicians use it to stoke fear in voters and it does work unfortunately.

      I say this often. This country has more people in prison as a percentage of our populaton than every other country in the world including countries like Russia, China and other totalitarian countries:

  7. What you wanna know?I have a love one In side Virginia department of corrections prison as we speak he’s been in prison since 16 for robbery. He is now 27 soon to be 28 next year ,he spent most of his life in prison .he got his GED in there a couple trades in certification in now he’s in a 2 year program in college ,he’s doing everything he need to be doing especially staying out of trouble. He served 11 going on 12 years already. Let me remind you he took a plea deal he was suppose only have 20 years but they ended giving him way more then that.its not right what he did,but it’s also not right how he was only suppose to be giving 20. The system is mess up ,he turn his life around.im not just speaking up just for him ,but for all who chose to turn there life around in side prison. He’s change for the better.He never been in prison before that ,what he did was his first offense.

    • There is some good news for you. The General Assembly enacted legislation in its last session that makes an offender, who committed a crime while he was a juvenile and received a sentence of more than 20 years, eligible to be considered for parole after serving 20 years. https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?201+ful+CHAP0529+pdf

      Your loved one is to be commended for making the most of his time in prison: GED, trade certificates, progress on a two-year college degree. I know that it seems a long time from now, but having the support of family and others on the outside is an important consideration in the granting of parole.

  8. PAROLE and good time credit is what there counting on. Virginia has to get better. 54% of the imates are Violent offenders ,I found it funny y’all just focus on the non Violent,it’s not fair. Especially now ,were in the middle of a crisis people are dying getting sick inside the prison in not even getting the right care. Virginia has to do better.

    • You are right. Many people who commit violent offenses also deserve a second chance. They are not necessarily violent people and they could have been able to turn their lives around.

  9. Mr Dick Hall Im glad you agree.i wanna make a difference,I want to speak up for all. Yes the juvenile law will help ,the good credit could be a big help as well. What is your advice to me,what should I do to make things a lot better ,how can I voice my opinion. The prisoner need to be herd as well. How can we make a change ?

  10. “There was Donald Lee Brooks who was serving 28 years for a second-degree murder committed in 2010. Debra Scribner, who was serving 28 years for a murder committed in 2012 and who was sprung after just eight years. Irvian Cotton, who in 1979 shot his wife at point-blank range in front of her children, ages 4 and 8. Dwayne Markee Reid, who was given two life sentences in 1995, and is back on the streets thanks to the board. So is Patrick Schooley Jr., who, in 1979, abducted, raped and stabbed to death a 78-year-old woman. Schooley was serving three life sentences for capital murder, before the board decided he should get a second chance.”

    I agree that many people who commit violent crimes (particularly in their youth) deserve a second chance. However, I don’t think a single one of these criminals is among that “many”.

  11. Mr waynes that makes a lot of sense.your totally right we have to draw the line somewhere. Look at all them people who was let out for killing rape etc……. They thought they deserved a second chance. People who committed violent offense while they were juveniles should not be eligible after 20 maybe 10 or 15 years by then they should already have learn there lesson In turn there life around. Do you think that’s Fair ?my love one hasn’t kill nobody In yes what he did was wrong he knows that in he’s paying for it, he change for the better .it’s just not him it’s many more like him.

  12. I think at the end of the day, there is not enough transparency for any of us to be able to get a full enough look at a given offender to make an informed decision – that’s what Parole Boards do.

    But even if we had more transparency, I’m not actually sure it would really benefit most offenders because a lot of people are not really that forgiving and that’s why it’s such a potent issue in elections. You can take one guy with a really bad record and show what appears to be a wrong-headed parole board and just blow the whole issue up.

    Just no easy way around that.

  13. Question when you guys do the consideration do you guys go in alphabetical order what’s the process for the juvenile law how does that go?

  14. Ok I understand that the if you got sentence as a juvenile you have to do 20 years to be eligible for parole. Is there any chance a person can be eligible for parole before them 20 years ,can they they be released before the 20 years? When people go up for parole what do they look at besides why they got lock up for ? Do they go by what they’ve been up too while there in prison,good behavior?

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